The Detective Novel Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In the eighteenth century, the chaplain of Newgate Prison in London was authorized to publish the stories of notorious criminals in The Newgate Calendar. From this practice sprang the often wholly fictional Newgate novels, accounts of sensational crimes. In France, François Vidocq, a criminal himself, became head of the Sûreté and later published his memoirs recounting his exploits in capturing criminals. It is also likely that some of the ambience of the early detective story was derived from the gothic novel. William Godwin’s Things as They Are: Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794; also known as The Adventures of Caleb Williams: Or, Things as They Are; best known as Caleb Williams), for example, although not a detective novel, is a story of a crime solved in order to free an innocent man.

From these beginnings, it remained for Edgar Allan Poe to devise the detective story in its now familiar form. Poe wrote three short works that are certainly detective stories, as well as others that are sometimes included in the genre. The first of these was “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), which was followed by “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842) and “The Purloined Letter” (1845). Poe initiated the device of establishing the character of the detective and then using him for several stories. Poe’s detective, M. Dupin, is a recluse, an eccentric, aristocratic young man with a keen analytical mind. He has an unnamed but admiring friend who marvels at Dupin’s mental prowess and is willing to be his chronicler. Dupin examines the evidence in a given case and solves the crime after the regular police have exhausted their methods—a circumstance that was to become one of the commonplaces of detective fiction.

Apparently impressed by Mémoires de Vidocq, chef de la police de Sûreté jusqu’en 1827...

(The entire section is 771 words.)